Smartphone captures camera’s decline

Not long ago, life’s precious moments were captured by someone who had the foresight to carry a camera. Now, everyone can reach for their cellphone. And smartphones, having dented demand for landlines, PCs and satnav, are now replacing the compact camera as the most popular device for taking photos.

Sales of point-and-shoot cameras fell 30% by value in 2011 compared with the year before. In fact, camera manufacturers have been on red alert since mid-year 2011 when the iPhone?4 became the most popular device from which snaps were uploaded to the picture-sharing website Flickr.

Even some professional photo-graphers admit they turn to their phones for snaps, with the celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz describing her iPhone as the “snapshot camera of today”.

“I’m still learning how to use mine,” Liebovitz told NBC. “I can’t tell you how many times I see people show me their children. It’s the wallet with the family pictures in it.”

Always available
Basic fixed-lens cameras accounted for more than 48% of manufacturers’ takings in Britain in 2010, according to research firm GfK. By November 2011, the most recent data shows these cameras represented just 37% of takings. “[The year] 2011 was when sales of basic cameras seriously started to decline,” said GfK analyst Zhelya Dancheva. “It’s about how consumers are using cameras, and on what occasions. The smartphone is popular because it’s always in your pocket, and you are connected, so you can directly upload to the internet whenever you want.”

Manufacturers will attempt to breathe new life into the budget camera market at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an annual showcase for gadget-makers. Samsung, Canon and Sony Electronics have added a range of bells and whistles, including Wi-Fi connections.

“All manufacturers need to focus on the value of a camera and what differentiates it from a smartphone,” said Reid Sullivan of Samsung, unveiling the firm’s latest model, the DV300F, which can upload images to sharing sites. It will also do away with the need for cables by sending images wirelessly to a computer.

Sony’s newer cameras can take photographs in 3D and will work in extreme conditions, including underwater. The budget models will also come with more powerful zoom lenses that capture events at a greater distance and with a higher resolution than phones.

The iPhone?4 is now used by more than 5?000 people to upload more than 73?000 photos each day on Flickr. The second most popular camera, with slightly more than 4?000 daily Flickr users, is the Nikon D90. It costs more than £550 (R6?300) without a lens and has a picture resolution of 12.3 megapixels, compared with the iPhone?4’s five megapixels.

Catching up

Unveiling the latest iPhone last year, Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook spent as much time emphasising its camera features as its processing power. The 4S has a resolution of eight megapixels, almost as high as the minimum of 10 now sported by most basic cameras.

The trend towards camera phones is just as advanced in the United States, where they were used to take 27% of photos last year, up from 17% in 2010, according to market research firm NPD. The proportion of photos taken with a point-and-shoot camera fell from 52% to 44%.

Trevor Moore, chief executive of photography retailer Jessops, said customers now believed the quality of photographs taken with their smartphones was high enough to spend money turning them into prints. “We have a huge number of smartphone users coming into our stores to use our printing kiosks,” said Moore. “We take the opportunity to talk to them about how they can make better pictures with a high-quality camera.”

In fact, sales of higher quality camera models are booming. Having become dissatisfied with the limitations of basic digital cameras, customers are flocking to those that offer better zooms and higher resolution. Sales of fixed-lens devices, which offer a zoom of more than 10 times, were up 42% by volume in the year to November, having risen 55% in 2010. Compact system cameras, which have interchangeable lenses, have seen sales by volume rise 51% in the past year, according to GfK. —

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